Last week a young Iranian man I know asked me to accompany him to his asylum hearing and provide pastoral counseling. I visited with “Mohammad” and his attorney in the waiting room for a few minutes before we were called up by the state official and interpreter. The atmosphere in the hearing room was quite pleasant, with the official doing her best to make Mohammad feel as comfortable as possible. Over the course of 5 1/2 hours (including two short breaks), they asked him to tell his story. As Mohammad related, he hails from an upper-middle-class family, but at the age of 15 ran afoul of the Iranian regime by activities that would not be unusual (albeit unethical) for American teenagers. From the perspective of the Iranian regime, however, Mohammad’s main “crime” was that, when caught by the police, he was accompanied by an Armenian friend. “So?” you ask? The vast majority of Armenians in Iran are Christian so simply his association with an “unbeliever” (from an Islamic point of view) had tipped the scales from a misdemeanor—to a nightmare. Our young friend was hauled before a judge and sentenced to 74 lashes plus six months in a youth detention facility—plus three years of probation. Mohammad testified that during those six months, he was subject to daily physical brutality by the wardens and threatened with even more severe violence if he did not toe the line. After his release, he knew that, if he were to commit even the slightest infraction over the next three years, he would be sent to an adult prison. As a result, Mohammad suffered a mental breakdown and tried to commit suicide. Praise God, after several days in a coma he recovered. After much deliberation, the family decided that the boy’s only option was to flee from Iran and seek asylum in Europe.
“Mohammad,” an Iranian teenager forced to flee from his homeland, was making his case for asylum. The official continued her questioning: “How did you become a Christian?” Kneading an anti-stress ball that she had given him, he explained how he had hired a human trafficker who left him stranded. Despite this setback, Mohammad somehow reached central Europe, arriving in a large city in winter in the middle of the night, clutching a plastic bag. Through bizarre circumstances, he met a pastor and his family who took him in. Mohammad stayed with them for half a year. At the end of his stay, he was baptized. Having heard that many Iranians live in Germany, he made his way north and requested asylum, which was turned down. Mohammad seemed to have convinced the official that flight from Iran was his only option due to his prior run-in with the cruel authorities. Now he needed to prove his Christian faith as well, since returning to Iran would lead to prison, if not death. “How do you lead your life as a Christian?” she inquired. “I go to church,” he replied. “That is my duty as a Christian. My baptismal verse is Matthew 28:19-20.” “So?” she asked. “For me, this means that I am obligated to tell people about Jesus. And I do. I tell everyone about Him—Iranians, Germans, everyone… I also forgive people much more than when I was a Muslim. I used to pick fights. I’ve quit doing that. Now if people get aggressive with me, I ignore them and pray for them. And this peaceful feeling comes over me…” After over five hours of testimony, the official asked me what I thought. I replied that Mohammad had been attending various churches for years and that I spent many hours reviewing the basics of the faith with him. “While only our Lord can look into the hearts of people, I believe this young man is an authentic Christian.” The hearing ended with everyone smiling, but a decision has not been handed down yet. Please pray for Mohammad.